Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Freedom of speech: Should the identity of online commenters be shielded?

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2011 at 10:21 AM

There is an interesting case in Hawaii that could have repercussions for website readers all over the country. The Maui Police Department (MPD) is subpoenaing the IP address of a person who commented on a story about a confrontation between the publisher of the alternative weekly Maui Times and an MPD officer.

In the story, Maui Times publisher Tommy Russo claims he was assaulted by an MPD officer and a member of the security team for Dog, the Bounty Hunter because he refused to quit filming them in a parking lot near his office. Lots of people commented on the post, mostly maligning the police action but some supporting the officer in question. One commenter in particular drew the interest of the police, which concluded it is a terrorist threat against the officer:

nothing new here
April 15, 2011 | 04:02 AM

the MPD,, the ONLY reason I own a LARGE CALIBRE, high powered rifle.

who needs criminals with this bunch of dog eating public menances running around.

Johnson needs a bullet when he walks out his door.

Federal Reserve

Russo told the Association of Alternative Weeklies he will fight the subpoena when he goes to court June 3 to answer the summons to turn over the IP address. He says anonymous online speech should be protected and that providing IP addresses of readers who comment on stories could put those people in danger.

The anonymity of commenters does allow for unrestrained hatefulness in some instances, but is that against the law? Would you be less likely to comment on stories and blog posts if your identity were known?

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